'Can Lego rescue us from coronavirus'? Diary of a family on lockdown

Our mother of two is writing a daily account of family life during the coronavirus lockdown

Rosa Silverman with her family
Rosa Silverman with her family

“Is the world going to end?” my six-year-old son asked cheerfully the other day. “Probably not,” I replied. But in truth I was no longer sure.

In some ways, it already felt like it was ending. His school and his three-year-old sister’s nursery had been closed until further notice, along with every other school and nursery in Britain, plus the majority of workplaces. The coronavirus pandemic was changing life as we knew it, for an indefinite period of time that looked like it would last for something between six months and forever. The precise amount of each others’ company my husband, children and I could possibly withstand was about to be brutally revealed. 

This, my dears, is lockdown. Sequestration in suburbia, in my case; cut off from almost everything that gives life its usual reasons and routines: wider family, friends, work, leisure, Sainbury’s…

Other than during maternity leave, I have never known life as a stay-at-home mum, and I certainly never imagined I had missed my vocation as a teacher, largely because it was certifiably not the case. But thanks to Covid-19, I have suddenly become both. Here’s how it’s panning out...

Day 1: Monday 23 March

I’m psyched, I’m ready and raring to go. Home-schooling here we come. Maybe I’ll enjoy it. Maybe I’ll discover my extremely well hidden inner reserves of patience. Maybe I can make this a positive experience, and maybe - hang on, why are my kids already up when they don’t have to go anywhere? Home-school can start at any time, so why don’t they have a lie-in? Since I’m on teaching duties today, it’s important I’m well-rested, so I assign the pre-breakfast childcare slot to my husband.

At 9am, along with 800,000 others around the world, my son and I attempt to join in with Joe Wicks’ live P.E. lesson on YouTube. Wicks seems very out of breath for a personal trainer, but not as out of breath as I am, after the first 45 seconds (which just involved listening to him chat). I’m intrigued by the background to the video. Is it his house? Because if it’s not, he’s probably breaking a new law, and if it is, it’s not what I expected. It looks like a normal sitting room. I don’t know what I expected - I know nothing about the man.

We do some writing and reading - I think they call it phonics or literacy or something. I must learn all the buzzwords. I ask my son to write down what he’s feeling, because I think that’s something they do now. He writes: “I am happy. I am sad.” So at least that’s clear.

The three-year-old resists learning the letter A, and demands some food. She’s literally just had breakfast. Still, I’m enjoying the slow pace of home-school - until the afternoon, when the pace grinds to a total halt. I had optimistically planned half an hour of French and half an hour of music. Both subjects combined take seven minutes. 

Time to Facetime my parents. Let them sort this out.

'While I am washing my hands obsessively, the three-year-old covers herself in dirt as often as she can'

Day 2: Tuesday 24 March

Bit tired today as I sat up until late last night, trying to book a supermarket delivery slot sooner than mid-April. Impossible, but I do transfer £93 to a food supplier in the Middle East. It’s not clear if the food will be shipped to me directly from Haifa, or why I’ve ordered 392g of artichoke bottom for £5.95, but I feel reassured we won’t starve.  

We go a little off-curriculum today and I find myself teaching the kids about British colonialism. I’m not sure how we get on to that, but it’s clear the three-year-old isn’t quite ready for my explanation of the Commonwealth. 

Day 3: Wednesday 25 March

I must confess I’m finding the Year 1 curriculum a little harder than anticipated. I am 37 years old and have a degree but I’ve had to sneakily Google a few things. Mustn’t let my son see that I lack a grasp of some basic mathematical concepts or he’ll lose faith in my whole system. When he asks me “what’s the smallest number in the world?” I pretend I don’t hear and leave the room. Those kind of questions can wait for later in the week, when daddy will be in charge.

It’s sunny today so we do some garden-based learning. The three-year-old suggests a game of mummies and daddies. My son plays the daddy and says “I’m in the pub and I’m not coming home.” Chance would be a fine thing. No-one can go to the pub any more. 

Meals are starting to get weird as I can only obtain certain foods. A delivery of vegetables arrived, which was good, but worryingly I have no memory of ordering it. I’ve no idea what to do with a brace of butternut squash and a dragon fruit, but I’m aware there are people out there experiencing worse things right now.

Day 4: Thursday 26 March

Husband has taken over the home-schooling/childcare beat so I can work. So far, the smoke alarm has gone off three times and the six-year-old has stormed my workspace four times. “Just pretend I’m not here,” I beg him. “Ok, then it doesn’t matter if I come into this room,” he replies. Unfortunately it’s hard to argue with this logic.

Downstairs, it appears my husband is trying to teach the kids Chinese, a language he doesn’t speak. Can’t fault his ambition.

A shipment of food arrives from the Middle East, so now we’re sorted for frozen artichoke bottoms at least.

Day 5: Friday 27th March

I’m getting very good at deploying the “Daddy’s in charge,” defence. E.g. “Can I stick sticky labels all over the doors?” “No.” “Please?” “Go and ask Daddy.”

The kids’ lunch consists mainly of pickled onions. I try, and fail, to impose a limit on the three-year-old’s consumption of these. Bigger fish to fry, and all that. Except that we don’t have any fish.

Later, I drive to a local friend’s house to collect some groceries she kindly ordered for me, and it’s strange being back behind the wheel. I can’t remember when I last drove. It was probably little over a week ago, but feels like years. We converse briefly from a safe, state-sanctioned distance. It’s nice to see someone else’s face, in real life and not on a screen. 

Husband says he’s going easy on the home-schooling this afternoon, “because it’s Friday.” I’m not sure what difference it being Friday makes to anything any more but, well, Daddy’s in charge.

Days  6-7: March 28-29

“Do we have to go anywhere today?” asks the six-year-old warily on Saturday morning. “We can’t go anywhere,” I remind him. “Good,” he says, apparently unconcerned that he hasn’t been beyond the garden for a week. 

In truth, I have an incredibly exciting excursion planned for myself: I’m crossing the road to post a letter. It feels transgressive. “That was amazing,” I tell my husband on my return one minute later. “I wish I had a letter to post,” he sighs. 

I invent a game where the children and I pretend we are going to the seaside, and on Sunday we pretend we’re climbing a mountain. I’m beginning to wonder why we’d ever bother to do such trips for real again when we can just fake them in our garden, with far less effort.

On Sunday night I cook burgers. I was a pescatarian before this started, but needs must. 

The children seem perfectly content. I judge it safer not to tell them their longed-for trip to Legoland had been booked for this weekend.

Day 8: March 30

“What would you do if the world exploded?” asks the six-year-old. His questions increasingly centre around apocalyptic scenarios. I can’t think why. Nor can I think of the answers. “Um, I guess I wouldn’t do anything, because I’d have exploded too?” I suggest, hoping we can change the subject.

I continue to wash my hands like some crazed domestic Lady Macbeth, to the point that they’re now raw and bleeding. Meanwhile the three-year-old rolls around in mud, drinks her own bathwater and licks every surface she can find. I’m really not sure why I bother.

I am trying to remember whom I’m supposed to be speaking to on Zoom in the evening. I’ve been very busy with Zoom chats, to the point that I’m wondering whether my social life will ever be this good again. An unexpected upside of lockdown is that while physically keeping us apart, it’s brought many people together emotionally. I’m now involved in nightly virtual hangouts with friends I rarely get a chance to see in real life. We must cling to such moments of cheer.

Day 9: March 31

How quiet things are. Not inside my house, obviously - here, there remains a reliably incessant wall of child-generated noise from first thing in the morning until gone 9pm. But outside, a hush has fallen over the neighbourhood, which is at once eerie and beautiful. Although we live far from the centre of London, we’re ordinarily lulled to sleep at night by the distant hum of traffic. Now, we hear only silence. 

In the middle of the afternoon, I notice the now-unfamiliar sound of a siren in a nearby street, something that a fortnight ago would have been quite unremarkable. In our back garden, quite often all I can hear now is birdsong. Today, I stand there on a weekday afternoon while the children scamper to and fro, and feel the warm Spring sunshine on my neck. I notice the way the tall trees beyond our house gently sway in the breeze and, later on, the pale pink wisps of sunset.

I’m teaching my son to tell the time, just when the hours are losing their meaning and the days all blur into one. 


Day 10: April 1

The great thing about handing over the childcare to my husband halfway through the day is that I can watch calmly as the children cover the kitchen in a million small pieces of Play-Doh in the morning, knowing I’ll be safely back at my computer when it’s time for the clean-up operation. 

I keep telling myself I will tidy the house properly at the weekend. But with no risk of anyone visiting to witness the mess, motivation is somewhat lacking. Mind you, it would be nice to be able to see the carpet again. I’ve forgotten what colour it is. 

The afternoon sees an outbreak of hostilities between the children, just outside my workspace. I pop my head around the door to see what’s going on - a bad mistake, for it results in me being drawn in. Husband is on a work call at the time, creating a power vacuum that led to the conflict.

Later, all is quiet. I look up from my desk and spot my husband playing football in the garden, alone. It’s a novel approach to home-schooling, but since the kids have appointed him headmaster, I don’t really see how I can quibble.


Day 11: April 2

Some milestones have been reached today:

  • The six-year-old learned to ride his bike. (I didn’t ask my husband if anyone came within two metres of him while he did so, not wishing to spoil the occasion.)

  • We reached the halfway point in the enormous catering pack of mozzarella I accidentally ordered last week. Only eight more tons to go!

  • I got down to the last layer of skin on my hands, thanks to all the washing.

Meanwhile, I worry that plastic packaging may be the enemy within, and have created a special quarantine zone for new plastic bags entering the house. Is this sensible, or the first sign of madness? It’s hard to know any more.

The six-year-old wants to build a Lego house “for all the key workers.” I have a feeling they may need a little more than this right now, but don’t have the heart to tell him. He is thinking of the only solutions he knows, and all his solutions involve Lego. Oh, to be six years old.